Two seniors from Tillsonburg became victims of an intricately planned cybercrime in mid January and lost $15,000 as a result.
“What happened here is they received a call trying to catch a bank employee,” said Constable Ed Sanchuk, Norfolk OPP. “The painful irony of this scam is that it’s an honest individual’s desire to help catch a criminal that ends up turning that person into a victim.”
One of the unknown cybercrime suspects posed as a RCMP officer, ‘Fred Rodrigues.’ The other suspect posed as a fraud executive at the Bank of Montreal.
The two scammers phoned the Tillsonburg couple and said there was a serious breach at the bank where their accounts were located. It was a breach of private client information, the scammers said, and many were affected. They asked the two seniors to help with a sting operation to arrest the culprits.
But it was not an actual sting operation, said OPP. It was a scam to steal the couple’s money. Fraudulent credentials were provided by the man posing as RCMP.
“First, it’s important to remember that neither your bank nor a police investigator will ever request that you assist in an undercover investigation or ask you to withdraw money from an account,” said Sanchuk. “If you receive such a suspicious call, hang up, then call your financial institution and contact the Canadian Fraud Centre as well.”
The two seniors were relentlessly pressured and harassed to participate in ‘the sting.’ They were told not to contact anybody – not the bank, not family, not friends – during the so-called investigation, said OPP.
The planned sting involved using the couple’s credit cards to purchase large denominations of Flexepin vouchers and Google Play cards at businesses in Tillsonburg. The scammers reassured the couple that they would add $5,000 to the three credit cards to a total of $15,000.
“This was never done!” said one of the seniors.
The vouchers each had specific pin numbers that could be traced once someone tried to cash them. The bogus RCMP officer ‘Fred’ said they could then arrest the criminals.
Unfortunately, the scammers insisted the couple give them access to the computer so they could scan all the purchased cards. As a result, their two credit cards were maxed out. They cashed in a total of $15,000.
“Never give anyone remote access to your computer or give out any personal bank information over the phone,” said Sanchuk.
“And if you do need to withdraw a large sum of money for a legitimate purpose, request a bank draft or a money order. This ensures that only the intended recipient is able to access that money. Criminals will not accept these forms of payment because it creates a paper trail to track the fraudsters.”
The scammers unsuccessfully tried to access their RRSP and tax-free savings accounts, which were frozen by the bank.
“We were beside ourselves and we were told not to talk to anybody,” said one of the seniors. “We were not only COVID isolated, but isolated from our families.”
“Check your bank statements frequently for any irregularities,” Sanchuk suggested. “Most importantly, if you have received this call, hang up the phone. This comes down to the CRA scam as well, the Hydro One scam with bitcoin… if you ever have anyone ask you to go out and buy a certain amount of gift cards and to provide those identification numbers on the back, you need to realize this is in fact a scam. Especially if they tell you not to tell anybody.
“We want people to know that no bank or police service in North America is going to contact you to assist in that type of investigation.
“If they have provided the scammers with the ID numbers, it’s going to be very difficult to track those cards because they can be used anywhere in the world now.”
The scammers continued to phone the couple’s land line, cell phone, computer and text messaged them to keep them ‘in the sting operation,’ an the scammers told them that as a result of the couple’s work, two people had been arrested in Prince Edward Island. Once the sting was complete, the couple was told that they would be well compensated for their work.
“But they had taken the money and run.”
Realizing too late it was a scam, after hearing several inconsistencies from the scammers, the couple broke silence and contacted family, then the OPP.
“They called us many times, said it was urgent, and we refused. We were done with them, then we went into high gear talking to OPP, the bank, Equifax, our insurance company…”
The overall message was say ‘no, no, no.’
“This is a severe warning to all residents to be super vigilant when dealing with bogus phone calls, emails, or written demands requesting funds,” said one of the Tillsonburg seniors. “Cybercriminals are out there exploiting innocent people especially seniors and trusting people. Do not give out any personal information. Report these incidents to your banks, family, friends and enforcement agencies.”
“Hopefully, reading this article will hopefully stop anybody else from getting caught up in this spider web. It was a real fiasco.”
It was the RCMP, said one of the seniors, that led them to trust the scammers.
“They said they needed help and we believed them.”
“We found out afterwards that the RCMP, for this type of case, doesn’t cover Tillsonburg.”
Sanchuk concluded by saying that anyone who may be a victim of scam – or potential scam – to look up the Canadian Fraud Centre’s ‘book of scams’, which is a free download from their website.